Saturday, June 11, 2011

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days

Founders at Work was written by Jessica Livingston (Apress: January 2007). There are 33 entrepreneurs interviewed by Jessica Livingston in her outstanding book about the people who have started companies in the modern era. The four women and their enterprises are:

·         Ann Winblad of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners and Open Systems Inc. a top selling accounting software company
·         Catarina Fake of Flickr (the image and video hosting website now owned by Yahoo!)
·         Mena Trott of Six Apart (creator of TypePad and Movable Type)
·         Jessica Livingston of Y Combinator, a seed stage venture firm

These women rank in the company of Steve Wozniak, Mitch Kapur, Dan Bricklin, Mike Lazaradis, Max Levchin, and Craig Newmark. If you don’t know what they created, get the book and learn how all of these people created the digital global world we inhabit today.

Four out of 33 is 12.1% -- very similar to all of the “women of achievement” market shares we read about everywhere today.  If it’s not 12 percent, it’s 15% or 18%.  But it’s always in that ballpark because that is how many women made the decision to go out and founded enterprises, today.

This is a wonderful book to read if you want to understand what it looks like from the inside to create a business and watch it grow. There is no funnier story than Ann Winblad’s description of her booth at an early Comdex and the travails she endured there. This sense of humor, crafted early in her career, undoubtedly helped carry her forward during many investor negotiation meetings where she probably was asked hundreds of times to go fetch the coffee for the boys.

Women ask for role models. Every minute of every day, it seems, women ask for role models.  In every conference or panel I’ve ever attended, they ask “Where are the women in leadership to inspire me?” Again and again, I read McKinsey or Wharton or Russell Reynolds or Catalyst bemoan the lack of “women role models.”

I keep trying to point them to books exactly like this one.  Or to the host of books that I’ve gathered on my Recommended Reading lists. I’m going to bring a copy of this book and my own to the next women’s panel.  I’m going to throw the books at the next woman who complains that she cannot find “any women role models to inspire her.”

What IS Your Mindset?

Is your mind made up that men and the companies they create and manage are all vestiges of an ancient organizational way of life -- as foreign to you as if they were residents of a distant planet?  If that is your mindset, how would it be possible for you to learn anything from them? And if they have nothing to teach you -- with all their hundreds of years of achievement, collectively -- then who possibly could teach you anything about growing a business?   Or do you think that you already know everything you need to know about business?

Another mindset requiring extensive self-examination is the view that THEY need to do SOMETHING to ensure YOUR success.  THEY need to appoint you to a board.  THEY need to promote you to the C-suite.  They need to invest in your venture.  Or THEY need to pass a law setting quotas on THEMSELVES and THEIR companies you so can be -- what -- invited to join them in THEIR boardroom?  

As you drive down our city streets, do you see the same vacant office or retail space as I do?  Do you see the same boarded up commercial and industrial centers with their For Lease signs at every turn?  Do you ask yourself who will move into these facilities?  Will it be men or women and their business enterprises?  

Do you see smiling faces at college, business and law school graduations and notice that there are now as many women as men and often more?  If we are graduating women into the workforce at record numbers and percentages -- which we most certainly are -- are they building businesses, banks industry and enterprises?  Are they employing other women and men to grow their entity to success?  Are they building a board with women and men?  Are they re-investing in the next generation of new, creative entrepreneurial enterprises -- planting the seed of the next generation of American economic activity?

If you think there are not enough women on top corporate boards, what is your mindset for solving that problem?  Is it waiting for SOMEONE ELSE to do something?  Or do you have the personal intestinal fortitude to do something, yourself, that might address that challenge -- for yourself -- in your life and career -- now?

At a minimum, maybe you aren’t quite ready yourself to take the reins of a growth-oriented business intent upon nudging the unemployment rates down off their current ceiling levels.  Are you at least looking for a strategy?  Are you trying to learn from the leaders in business about how they did it -- how they built a successful business?

If you aren’t quite ready to roadshow towards an IPO, are you at least able to building working capital through collateralized loans and earn enough in revenues to pay the bank back for their willingness to invest in your business future?

If you aren’t ready, yet, to build your own campus corporate headquarters, would you at least consider taking your business off of the dining room table into a community office center or an executive office suite?  

It Depends on the Woman

First the mantra was, “Women need mentoring.”  Next, it morphed into, “Women need coaching.”  Today, the cry and hue is that, “Women need sponsors.”  Once corporations start to gear up women-only sponsors, you can bet we will hear the next lament, “Women need partners” or “male wives” or “advisors” or “symbiotic robots.” (If women DO need robots, they can probably get them from Helen Greiner, MIT roboticist and co-founder of iRobot Corporation -- which by the way has 3 women among 10 corporate directors).

Mel Gibson wasn’t the only one to struggle with the question of “What DO women want, anyway?”  What do women want?  It depends on the woman.  If the woman is a typical media writer, she hasn’t a clue, yet will write copiously on the subject ad nauseum.

Most outstanding women know exactly what they want. They are intensely purposeful about pursuing what they want.  They get exactly what they need because they are confident and clear about the underlying personal assessment of what will give them joy, a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.  

Positive intellectual and emotional pursuits provide satisfaction far superior to the satiation of base, survival urges.  The focus on health, more than illness, offers the same type of personal rewards. It is simply much more satisfying to sustain the positive feelings and mental/emotional rewards of good nutrition and exercise compared to the alternative of sickness and poor conditioning.

Small Business Administration

In February 2011, Karen Mills’ SBA issued Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract Program guidelines. See:

The WOSB Program identified eighty-three (83) four-digit North American Industry Classification Systems (NAICS) codes (out of 300) where WOSBs are underrepresented or substantially underrepresented. 

The new regulations provides for set-asides for eligible WOSB contractors for projects priced at less than $5 million for manufacturing contracts and less than $3 million for other contracts. 

It's a beginning.

Progress of Women

To read the March 2011 Report of the White House Council on Women and Girls, see:

The Council was created by President Obama in early 2009. It is chaired by Valerie Jarrett with Christina Tchen, Executive Director

Women have made major strides forward in all of the major indicators, reported:

People, Families, and Income
Crime and Violence

Noteworthy was the fact that women-owned businesses, the area where women undoubtedly have made the greatest progress, was not covered by the research.  The SBA was missing in action. 

Research into a 'Growth Mindset'

Take a look at the interesting research focusing on “growth mindsets” at the Scitable blog:

A 'growth mindset' is the propensity to look at the glass as half full, at the marketplace as being full of opportunities rather than constraints or limits.

Consider the brain as a malleable muscle -- capable of growth and strengthening.  In a study by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues:  

“The students in the intervention group were taught that learning changes the brain and that they should think of the brain as a muscle that becomes stronger, developing new connections and strengthening existing ones as someone learns. As a result, a person becomes smarter. The lessons also stressed that mistakes made in the course of learning are necessary and help students learn. The lessons concluded with the message that students are in charge of this process and that being smart is a choice.”

Ironic that the blog author, Christianne Corbett, talks about her speaking focus: “Why So Few?” -- where she concentrates not on a growth mindset at all, but rather a negative mindset about women in STEM.

A Future We Create

On March 1, 2011, 60 women scientists spoke to us about the importance of a career in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) as well as the joy and satisfaction they gained from their own scientific careers.  Sponsored by Dow Chemicals, this was a refreshing video conference respite from the usual kvetching and bemoaning too often we see about women in nontraditional professions.
Go to the web site (, then sit back, relax and watch some impressive women for the next hour.  Every one of them is a star in her own right.  Each one has some top quality advice to give.

Noteworthy also is the fact that they are so diverse, themselves, in their views and suggestions.  There is not one giant theme -- there are 60 individual perspectives.  Very refreshing.

Go to the web site to hear coaching, mentoring, counseling by some of the nation’s outstanding women scientists, young and mature, from academia, business, nonprofits and government.  Talented women are everywhere, today.
What will you see?

Confident women bolstered by education and experience.

Problem-solving women, prepared and capable of analyzing their challenges and then constructing solutions in a collaborative manner.

Creative women who recognize contemporary opportunities, not simply ancient myths and tales of woe.

Study how well-spoken all these women are:  talent which is fine-tuned from their experiencing defending research analyses and positions in mixed gender settings.

Note how many of them have familial obligations (whether it be children or parents) and how they deal with those commitments as effective partners.  

Finally, observe that you don’t hear whining, bemoaning or wailing.  These women of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are absolutely the caliber of leaders we have and need for our 21st century economy.

If you want coaching, then go listen.  If you want mentoring, then heed their advice.  If you want wisdom, find it right here -- right now.